Pairing wine and food should be fun. It intimidates some people, as though there were really a wrong way to enjoy good food and good wine, and it could spoil your whole day. Nothing could be further from the truth—the one real rule is that any wine you want to drink, with any food that you want to eat, is a great pairing, so go for it!
That’s not to say you can’t maximize the potential of your food and your wine with a little strategic pairing, and some really simple guidelines about what works. This Whine Wednesday we’re covering one of our favourite animals, the Beef.
Beef In General
Red wine tastes so good with beef because the tannins in red bond so perfectly to the proteins in the meat. Straight up, a bold and tannic red wine isn’t the greatest thing in the world for sipping—it’s just too astringent for more than a few sips alone. But grill up a chunk of well-aged steak and it’s heavenly and silky and just fundamentally perfect.
All beef has proteins, but fat content varies by cut. Tannin not only bonds to proteins, it helps cut through fat like a de-greaser, cleaning your palate and letting you enjoy the juicy unctuousness of the meat without getting overwhelmed. Richer cuts (filet mignon, porterhouse, New York strip, t-bone, ribeye) need bigger, bolder wines with high tannins, like Sommelier Select™ Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon or Rossa Ardente. Leaner cuts (Eye of round, sirloin tip, top or bottom round) all work better with a medium bodied wine like Sommelier Select Chilean Malbec or a Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir.
Tough cuts are another kettle of fish. Brisket, short ribs or stewing beef need to be cooked for very long times to break their sinewy toughness down into rich, fork-tender beefiness. This calls or a fruity, rich wine with a little less tannin than you might choose for a Porterhouse steak, say a Sommelier Select Old Vine Merlot or a Winemaker's Reserve Carménère.
Grilled or pan-seared beef is fairly straightforward: choose wines by cut and don’t cook anything beyond medium-rare (beyond medium rare the proteins denature and you might as well pair your wine with a shoe). But most people don’t eat steak every night of the week, and that means beef prepared in different ways, from stir-fry to burgers, to meat loaf. With these cooking types you have to look at spicing and saucing for clues to choosing your wine.
Stir-fry usually runs to Asian spices. For these, you want light-bodied and fruity wines, and anything with capsicum spiciness needs some sweetness to offset the heat. This is one place where White Zinfandel beats a tannic red every time.
Burgers are one of the greatest foods in history, and deserve to be celebrated with a good glass of red. Toppings tend to be really bold—onion, pickle, yellow mustard, ketchup (not on mine, thanks) are all either tart or sweet or both. A really bold, fruity red works here, and a juicy, medium-rare burger wants some grip. Sommelier Select Nebbiolo is an excellent choice.
Meat loaf is the business casual version of hamburgers—cleaned up, but not formal. A medium-bodied red with decent but not overwhelming tannin is a great choice, especially if you’ve gone all out and made garlic mashed potatoes. Winemaker’s Reserve Merlot or Malbec fit the bill nicely.
Everyone has their own preferences, and the wine that tastes good to you is the best pairing—never feel obligated to drink a wine because someone said you should. Wine is a playground for your creativity, not a prison for your palate, so enjoy every sip!